arts

Photographer Ben Thomas' vivid snapshots color-bomb reality

Published 9th August 2019
Ben Thomas bondi swimming 2 bondi beach chroma
Credit: Ben Thomas
Photographer Ben Thomas' vivid snapshots color-bomb reality
Written by Jacopo Prisco, CNN
You'll need to look twice. At first glance, the stunningly colorful images crafted by Australian photographer Ben Thomas look like illustrations, with a vivid glow that wouldn't feel out of place on the storyboard for a Wes Anderson movie.
But they are, 100% percent, actual photographs of mostly urban landscapes from around the world -- Sydney, Melbourne, Florence, New York, Paris, Dubai.
The works, dominated by extreme pastel colors, belong to an ongoing series called "Chroma" -- meaning color in Greek -- which Thomas started in 2015.
Usually shot on very bright, sunny days, the images are the result of digital processing and offer a commentary on urban life, much like Thomas' previous series, "Cityshrinker," which miniaturized cities through the use of tilt-shift.
Below, Thomas describes his technique and his motives, and how the project itself started.
CNN: Where does your inspiration come from?
Ben Thomas: I got inspired by the paintings of Jeffrey Smart, who grew up in my hometown of Adelaide. I was really drawn to his use of perspective and color. It got me thinking, there are a lot of painters and illustrators out there that are trying to create hyper-realistic images. What if I was to go the opposite way, with a photograph? Take something that's real and kind of push it back into something that's more graphical and painterly. So I spent spent probably three, four months building a process to do that. There was a lot of trial and error.
Ben Thomas crown - New York
New York Credit: Ben Thomas
And what's your technique?
The weather conditions are really quite important. It's not the typical conditions that photographers want: I'm looking for bright, harsh sun. That's the first component. Once I've found the location I want to shoot, I need to get the image at the right time, to take advantage of those conditions. Then there's pretty extensive post-processing, I'm using quite a bit of software to individually manipulate each of the colors, but also the light and the darkness of the image as well. The process really does come down to breaking these images down to core components, looking at each of the individual colors and how they work together, and bringing them forward in a way that produces that illustrative kind of aesthetic that I'm looking to achieve.
Ben Thomas split - Dubai
Dubai Credit: Ben Thomas
Is there an underlying message?
One of the common themes in my work has been looking at the spaces that we live in, our built environment, and how people interact with it -- and how that differs from city to city and country to country.
How long does it take to complete each image?
It varies, but probably about four to five hours of actual processing. Although I might do five or six iterations of the image as well. Typically speaking, I'll do a first pass edit on the image, and then I'll put it away for a couple of weeks. That means I could be working on each for a couple of months before they get released.
Ben Thomas nathans new york chroma
Coney Island Credit: Ben Thomas
How do you find your locations?
It's a mixture of things. It could just be a pure discovery. I might be in a city for reasons other than photography. And I would take my camera out, put the headphones on, and just go out and explore and start talking to people about their city. There are also some places that are simply aesthetically incredible. I've spent some time lately in Procida, an island that's just a short ferry ride off Naples. That's a really incredible location that's been built up over the last couple of hundred years.
Ben Thomas walking through
Procida Credit: Ben Thomas
What kind of reaction do these images produce in the people who see them?
I've got quite a big body of work from New York, and it's really fascinating to see people from New York going through it and almost rediscovering some of these areas that they wouldn't ordinarily look at. I'm hoping that people see environments that they are quite used to, but in a slightly different way. Other than that I also want to showcase some amazing places that people might not have been to. One of the real classics for me is one of the first images in the series, from Bondi Beach in Sydney. The reactions are always super strong around that. That was a scene I shot, I think, on a Friday, it wasn't even a weekend. It's full of people, it's the way of life there. So that starts an interesting conversation about the different ways that people live and interact with the places they call home.
Browse through the gallery above to see more of the Chroma series.
Top image: Bondi Beach, Sydney.